Thursday, February 29, 2024

Preliminary NTSB report reveals new details about deadly Williamsburg helicopter crash

A helicopter that crashed into a Williamsburg condominium building earlier this month, killing a resident and its pilot, began experiencing problems moments after takeoff,  according to a preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board.

According to the report, the pilot — 85-year-old Henry Schwarz of Alexandria — took off from the Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport around 4:30 p.m. July 8 for a return flight to Stafford Regional Airport near Fredericksburg.

Schwarz had flown from Stafford to Williamsburg earlier that day to attend a meeting at the airport.

The Robinson R-44 helicopter climbed to about 1,700 feet and headed north at about 110 knots (127 mph), the report said. About 90 seconds later, the aircraft began a “right decreasing radius turn” near the crash site and started descending at a rate greater than 10,000 feet per minute.

Witnesses told the NTSB that the helicopter appeared to be flying relatively level as it approached the Bristol Commons neighborhood before suddenly pitching nose-down and slamming into the two-story building.

Moments after impact, the helicopter sparked a fire that heavily damaged the building.

Both the main and auxiliary fuel tanks aboard the helicopter had been topped off before Schwarz left Williamsburg, airport personnel told the NTSB. The report also said the weather on July 8 was calm, with 10 miles of visibility.

In addition to Schwarz, the crash and fire also killed 91-year-old Jean Danylko, who lived on the condominium building’s first floor.

Firefighters and investigators remove debris from the site of a helicopter crash Monday, July 9, 2018, at the Bristol Commons townhouse complex. (WYDaily/Bryan DeVasher)
Firefighters and investigators remove debris from the site of a helicopter crash Monday, July 9, 2018, at the Bristol Commons townhouse complex. (WYDaily/Bryan DeVasher)

The helicopter came to rest inside the north end of the 10-unit building, leaving a 70-foot path of wreckage in its wake. Most of the helicopter’s components were found inside the building, the NTSB said, except for the tail boom, the tail rotor, and tail rotor gearbox.

Many of the helicopter’s components were damaged or destroyed in the fire, while some  wreckage was inaccessible because parts of the building had collapsed in the fire, the report said.

The report notes that both fuel tanks were heavily damaged in the crash, and the cap on the auxiliary tank was missing. The report doesn’t specify if the missing cap is related to cause of the crash.

According to the report, the helicopter’s logbooks show it underwent an annual inspection on Aug. 24, 2017. The inspection was performed by Robinson Helicopter Co., the maker of the aircraft.

The Robinson R44 is a small helicopter that can carry three people and a pilot. It is the make of helicopter that crashed Sunday, July 8, 2018, into the Bristol Commons townhouse complex in Williamsburg. (WYDaily/Courtesy Robinson Helicopter Co.)

The most recent maintenance performed on the helicopter was an oil change on Jan. 26, the report said.

Federal Aviation Administration records show that Schwarz was certified to fly single- and multi-engine planes in addition to helicopters. He had 5,693 total hours of flight experience, of which 1,919 hours were in helicopters with 545 of those hours in a Robinson R44, the report says.

The final crash report is not expected to be issued for another 18 to 24 months.

Related coverage:

Bryan DeVasher
Bryan DeVasherhttp://wydaily.com
Bryan DeVasher is the managing editor-digital of WYDaily. A resident of Hampton Roads for more than two decades, he has worked for news organizations in Virginia, Illinois, Missouri and Indiana. He most recently was a member of the public relations staff for Virginia State Police.

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